Temperatures surged to an astounding 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) in Death Valley, California, on Sunday, measurements that, if confirmed, could the highest verified on Earth since at least 1913, officials said.
The National Weather Service confirmed Sunday’s preliminary high temperatures and said they would need to be verified by a panel of experts.
“This temperature was measured at Furnace Creek near the Visitors Center using a National Weather Service-owned automated observation system,” the agency said. “If verified, this will be the hottest temperature officially verified since July of 1913, also at Death Valley. As this is an extreme temperature event, the recorded temperature will need to undergo a formal review.”
Death Valley is the lowest and hottest point in the United States, sitting 190 feet below sea level in southeastern California. The average rainfall is less than 2 inches a year and temperatures regularly spike to more than 120 degrees in the summer.
The region currently holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth, a blistering 134 F set on July 10, 1913. However, that figure has come under scrutiny after some meteorologists said the data showed it was “essentially not possible” at that time. A 129-degree reading was recorded in Death Valley in 2013 and again in Kuwait and Pakistan in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
(Another 1931 reading in Kebili, Tunisia, came in at 131 degrees, although that figure has faced criticism as well).
The fact that Sunday’s temperature was recorded in mid-August in notable. July is the hottest month in the United States and past records have usually been set during that month before high temperatures start to wane.
But the southwestern U.S. has been in the midst of an incredible heat wave that has shattered records across the region. Power officials in California instituted rolling blackouts in parts of the state this weekend for the first time since 2001.
Scientists have long warned that temperature extremes will only become more common as climate change continues unabated. Heat waves are becoming more frequent around the globe, according to the World Meteorological Organization, and 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, capping off the 2010s as the hottest decade in recorded history.
The Washington Post noted Sunday’s reading in Death Valley is likely to stand, at least for now.
“Everything I’ve seen so far indicates that is a legitimate observation,” Randy Cerveny, the lead for the World Meteorological Organization’s weather and climate extremes team, told the outlet.